Dr. Smushkin’s Thoughts


Let me begin what I want to share with you. I will share things that are not written by the experts in the hockey field. So don’t be surprised or confused if those things very hard to believe, strange, far out or totally unfamiliar. There may be a conflict with what I share with you and all that you been taught in the past. 


In Worldwide Hockey are many nations with good hockey traditions challenging each other for the highest Olympic title. In fact, I respect all people working in world’s hockey community with passion to the game. Sharing this passion I develop my own alternative system of athletic hockey agility. My teaching system is different and follows the Lows of Nature and postulates of the theory of physical education.

I come to this conclusion because the East have one set of Rules to play the game and the West another. I made the decision to choose Athletic Science and not to copy hockey-teaching traditions of the East and of the West.

My Teaching System is based on biomechanical, physiological and psychological concepts of cognitive and physical individual athletic agility. In fact, I train the hockey players now in the west and east, the same way that I was teaching young gymnasts and figure skaters in the former USSR.

Today hockey is not just a national game with old traditional way of thinking.  The game is changed from the way we as coaches, scouts and players are accustomed to perceiving the game, to a new thinking way about the fascinating sport of a Global hockey!


The Rhythm of the game 


The game rhythm is rapid transition from offensive to defensive actions with slow, fast or quick temp (speed). The player who can match the game rhythm transitions smoothly without frictions can have greater chance to win. In addition to that, the game rhythm has rapid transitions of directions (trajectories) of players and the puck. To match that obstacle for the player requires to be a solid skater with “Hockey Sense of Mind”.

In your shift you can match or mismatch game rhythm.  If you match, you are adapting to game rhythm changes, you are acting inside game situations. If you wait to adapt yourself after they occur, you become passive participator, you are outside of the game situation. In other words, player must be able to adapt or modify his decisions based on new circumstances and opportunities in each of his shifts.


Rhythmical skating prevails over power skating!


Many programs for hockey players are named “Power Skating”. It is the most misused phrase with two words “Power” and “Skating”.

In survey of 50 Russian hockey specialists we see that absolute strength (power) is the last of eleven essential characteristics of an ideal hockey player (see my book “Hockey Agility”, 1997, pages 59-60).

Very important to understand that for hockey, like in figure skating, the player need skates to present skills on the ice. Both sports have Rhythmical Movement, figure skaters with music and hockey players with cooperative and confrontational moves (with and without puck).

Speed transitions from slow to fast, from slow to quick, from quick to slow and fast automatically develop muscular strength (power).

The secret of speed transitions is not the strength to push skates, but deep feeling of the rhythm of skates, stick, and puck. Rhythmical skating and not a power skating are real fundamental skills for figure skaters and for hockey players.



The Art of Adaptation


Adaptation means shortening the time it takes to adjust to each new game situation during the player’s shift. The player must observe the situation, orient to it, decide what to do and act. The player who can consistently adapt more quickly to the situation will have a significant advantage. Adaptation is the most important skill of hockey tactics.

There are two basic ways to adaptation: by anticipation and by improvisation.

When we have enough situational awareness to understand a situation in advance, we can take preparatory actions. This is anticipation.

At other times we have to adapt to situation on the spur of the moment without time for preparation. This is improvisation.

To be fully adaptable we must be able to do both.



Cognitive Hockey - Above and Below the Neck Development


Any hockey skills start in the head, where mind acts in a split-second before body. Dynamic intensity of the game at any age and levels of hockey become restraining factor for the mind “think quickly” and for body “react rapidly and adequately”. It is the mind “above the neck” that directs “below the neck” body activity in the game.

This is a law of nature and the victory comes to ones, who keep on game thinking, trying, experimenting and looking for options. To find the right solution in a complicated situation is the athletic art, which is needed not only in hockey, but in real life as well.

The basic components of the hockey team are hockey players, cooperating with their team players and playing against the opposing team. The hockey players must have athletically skilled body and mind that controls their performance during the game.

Most hockey players and coaches spend enormous amounts of time and energy trying to improve athletically all of the team players, but neglect individual skills development for each team player. Most coaches introduce team strategy with team tactical skills which is much more difficult in cognitive level to understand, especially for Novice level of hockey.

Logically, cognitive individual skills development has to be introduced to young hockey players before cognitive team skills. In fact, no one is learning to play piano or violin in orchestra and any maestro does not teach how to play piano or violin to his music players.

Traditional postulate “read and react”, I think, is too old and wrong. The postulate “thinking and reacting adequately” has much more common sense today in “real-deal” hockey, because thinking and reacting are cognitive mental and physical skills.

I like to say to all “hockey people” worldwide that the only difference between cognitive mind agility and physical body agility is that first is located above the neck and the second - below. Muscles are the visual representation of the athletic body, while the mind is a completely hidden block. That resembles the tree with visual stem above the land and roots of tree below the land. In fact, each individual skill in the hockey game become tactical skill and each tactical skill co-exists with cognitive and physical elements. We can’t ignore that fact of athletic development.

Brain cells, eye muscles, memory storage, recognition, attention, anticipation, reacting and other cognitive parameters - speed, rhythm, gravity and space control - can be developed and improved in parallel with physical development of hockey players.

I am upgrading and improving mental and physical agility of my hockey players from mono vision to poly vision, from tunnel vision to peripheral vision, from stationary objects recognition to dynamic object recognition. Tracking the puck to the target, quick space orientation, filling the rhythm of the skills, also part of my cognitive individual hockey skills development.

I am proud to introduce (in my Schools in Toronto, Boston and Stockholm) cognitive individual skills development for all levels of Novice hockey. Many hockey coaches are sending their players to my Schools to learn cognitive individual hockey skills. With many of them I have permanent professional contact by helping them implement my ideas in their coaching work.

My System, which I practiced in North America for over 30 years with young hockey players, stays in opposition to tradition but with proven successful results.


Hockey is not just a game it is also a Reality Show


The game space has two parts:  an ice rink for players and the stands for the spectators. Because of television, the audience has grown from local, to national, and even international. Now “hockey shows” can be seen by millions of fans around the globe on TV or video.

While watching a game, hockey fans also “play hockey” emotionally, with their eyes and hearts, along with the ups and downs of the game.

Worldwide TV coverage provides an incredible opportunity for the players to showcase themselves and promote their spectacular individual skills. Their creative, unique, and original hockey skills will be acknowledged and appreciated by the hockey media, as well as by hockey fans.

In hockey, playing solo means that the player, when performing alone, demonstrates his mastery of the skills as well as his creativity. When the soloist player is performing, he will capture the public’s attention by his exceptional moves.

Today, for the new generation of hockey players, it is extremely important to be part of the hockey show and not just part of the competition. For the players, it is crucial to be both –an athlete and an entertainer.  Only the coach can’t be part of the show because he is off the ice and his skills are hidden from view.

Traditionally, the game is the competition between two teams, when players, with their coaches, do what they must do to win the game by scoring the most goals.

An impressive hockey show is based on how the players of both teams perform their individual hockey skills.  This is their artistic mastery as opposed to their technical skill.  Both are required to provide a spectacular show, which becomes a brilliant game. In this case, players, without coaches, are able to act individually and determine the best response by utilizing their creativity.

For example, in chess, what the queen does, has a completely different impact on the game result than what the pawn does.  The roles are different.  Both of them can make strong moves, but only the queen can be agile. The “game show”, in my view, requires not only a high level of the player’s physical skills, but also a high level of creative, mental and body agility. Creative hockey agility is front and center for today’s players’ individual development. Players and coaches can’t ignore those who PAY today to see the game.


Interruption of the game process


Hockey is a team sport but not the same like soccer or other team sports, where players compete on playing field all the time. The hockey players train together in team practices and are not all together in the game. The soccer players train together in the team practices and play the game together.

In the hockey game only the goalie remains on ice from the beginning to the end. Players performing their shifts with the length of each shift determined by the coach. On average, one shift is less than one minute long. Hockey players generally don’t know how many times during the game each of them will be on ice. This interruptions remind sports like gymnastic, figure and speed skating, track and field and others, where athletes compete during their “shift or shifts”. Their responsibility during their shifts reminds the responsibility of the soccer player during his penalty kick.

When and how they learn to prepare to compete, compete and finally train to win?

Their training process is based on individual practices, where they prepare themselves to make impact during their shifts-performance in competition.

This difference manifests itself that hockey player’s and soccer player’s preparation to competition is based on two different approaches: individual - for hockey players and group based training for soccer players.

How does this affect the hockey player individual development?

Like former gymnast and figure skater I can say –negatively. In gymnastic length of performance on the flour or on the apparatus, remind the hockey shift. Everybody knows how many hours the gymnast prepares himself for this “shift”. Same situation takes place in the figure skating development.


Hockey coach


In hockey, the coach’s role is limited by intensity of situational unpredictable game actions. During the game, the coach is the one who guides the team, even though he himself doesn’t go on the ice. It is next to impossible  for the coach to predict various game situations from off the ice. The coach can guide professional teams with a high level of athletic experience since they have already the ability to perform under variable conditions.

With young hockey players, however, this approach hampers the development of independent game thinking with resourcefulness and individual creativity.


Nature’s Law of Skills Development


Individual skill development in any sport is process which agrees to laws of science. You can’t win systematically if you don’t learn how to compete. You are not ready to compete if you don’t prepare yourself to compete. The lows of natural athletic development can’t be ignored.

In hockey, it is very often the situation when the common sense is ignored!


The hockey game is played at a dynamic, complex, chaotic and unpredictable environment. Hockey, in nature, is the collision of opposing team players unpredictable in their behavior. Chaotic game environment also brings some players the chance and opportunity to win the battle. Winning requires knowledge and understanding of strategy and tactics with technical fighting skills within game battles.

The strategy of the hockey battle is whether, what and why you go or do. The tactics of the hockey battle is how you go or do in a given game battle. It involves the creation of fighting skills, positioning and maneuvering to defeat the opponent.

Mastering fighting skills is a unique ability of physical, mental and moral factors that require intensive and continuous training. Without mastering game fighting skills it is impossible to win game battles.


Three Levels of Distance to Win!


There is a distance in any hockey competition between trial and achievement, reality and desire, inconsistency and consistency. This distance has three levels: A - preparation to compete, AA - learning to compete and AAA - training to win.

At “A” level you compete against yourself or “skill standard” when nature challenges your mind and body in space, time and by gravity in action. At “AA” level you will be challenged by your team players and opponents. At “AAA” level you must consistently upgrade your skills in order to win. Once you overcame that distance you will be “ahead of action and above the game“.


My Hockey Agility Training System is based on transition of directions, temp, rhythm and motion amplitude. 


Hockey, in nature, is a dynamic, complex, chaotic and unpredictable game environment with the collision of opposing team players unpredictable in their behavior. To win the battle it involves the creation of fighting skills, positioning and maneuvering to defeat the opponent.

My Hockey Agility Training is rooted in the biomechanical principles of dynamically changing the speed, motions amplitude, body’s special positions and timing.

Each hockey skill can be developed and performed in all six directions with different rhythmical compositions and changing amplitudes for skates, stick and puck movements.

Basic directions (front, back, left, right, up, down), temporal movement (slow, fast, quick), rhythmical bits (1-3-5-7) are fundamental techniques of individual Hockey Mastery.

Mastering Hockey Agility Skills requires intensive and continuous training. Without mastering these skills it is impossible to win game battles.


Message for Parents


Parents have to know that “pay for watch and play” children hockey is a very good idea to “keep kid’s from the streets”. According to the official policy, the prime goal of children’s hockey is to “make sure that the game is so much fun, that half-million children who play it every year retain their enthusiasm, graduating into future fans of adult amateur hockey”. One former president of the Canadian Hockey Association says, “If you become a professional player, it’s a bonus, not a goal. We shouldn’t disrupt the mass participation system”.
Despite the mass character of tournaments and huge material expenses for parents, the quality of skills in children hockey remains unsatisfactory. The “winning at any cost” can’t be explained by anything other than the goal to increase emotional intensity of the on-ice entertainment.
The giant children hockey has the right to exist even without high level of physical and mental individual skills development. Some children like to play hockey just for fun and exercise with little concern for perfection. Others may start with limited goals and later find their horizons rising as they become better acquainted with hockey and their own potential. The task of parents is to unlock the secrets of the game’s artistry and help their child mastering the best skills of the game. The child must be organized with his own homework training around his team to achieve this level.
The starting point is the individual mental training. Mental training for high performance is an area that many hockey players usually neglect. Most hockey players and coaches spend enormous amounts of time and energy trying to improve body physical skills from the neck down. Like other parts of your body, your brain cells may lose some mental agility if you don’t strengthen them. Sport psychology tell us that superior mental agility helps create a higher level of physical individual performance. How we think before we react to any game situations, is the result how we can focus and use our mental energy to enhance individual physical skills!
The statement “if you can’t skate, you can’t play” eventually became acknowledged by all “hockey” people. I manifest other statement “ if you can’t think Ahead, you can’t be a Winner”. In my School I provide personalized off and on ice skills development, preparing my students for hockey competition, teaching them how to perform individual skills techniques in the game.



Dr.Yasha Smushkin